You know how in “Grey’s Anatomy” Derek Shepherd (aka Doctor McDreamy) always had to wear the same ferry boat scrub cap every time he performed a surgery? In one episode of the show, he was so distraught when he couldn’t find his cap that he dramatically shouted to his wife, Meredith Grey, that he needed the ferry boat cap because it was “lucky,” like if he wasn’t wearing it, his patient wouldn’t make it out of the operating room (OR).
Things You Should Know About the Top 5 ER Superstitions
Okay, sure, fine, “Grey’s Anatomy” isn’t a true representation of hospitals, emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, or medical professionals altogether. But you have to admit, the show is super juicy and Derek’s ferry boat scrub hat is dope.
As for his obsessive need to wear it into every OR with every patient and for every kind of brain surgery, that’s what we’d call superstitious. And around this spooky time of the year, there’s plenty of superstitions to go around. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be superstitious, like Michael Scott from “The Office” said, you might be a little “stitious,” right?
What are superstitions?
If you Google the definition of “superstition,” it would say, an “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural being.” LOL, what? How would I know that and what does it mean? Well, I Googled it.
Essentially, superstitions are ideas that we have and/or believe in so strongly that it leads us to act based on that illogical confidence. They originated over the course of centuries and vary depending on where you grew up so yours might sound a bit different than mine. But I’d bet money that you’ve heard these classic superstitions:
“Knock on wood.”
“Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.”
“Cross your fingers.”
“Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.”
Any of this sound familiar? Probably because they’re little tidbits from our childhoods that are stuck in the deepest crevices of our brains and only sneak out when we accidentally break a mirror or spill a saltshaker. That brief “Oh crap!” moment is the notification popping up in the superstitious center of your mind letting you know that you have goofed, dear friend. But, have you really?
A smidge more than a quarter of American adults would aggressively nod their heads yes. However, the science to back up that thought is minimal and many psychologists have credited superstitions to an assumed “connection [that] exists between co-occurring, non-related events.” In other words, it’s our brains natural way of filling in the blanks to things we don’t or can’t fully understand. Superstitions can offer control in times of uncertainty and soothe you when you’re feeling anxious about, you know, life.
This superstitious nature was great for our ancestors who were threatened by “predation or other natural forces,” but us humble folk here in the 21st century have different problems, like the rate of unemployment, persistent health problems that target a large aging population, and even trivial moments of whether or not you got that extra fry sauce that you ordered.
One “Medical News Today” reader grew up with a parent who has “tons of superstitions.” They said: “[She] can’t walk under a ladder, can’t put new shoes on the table (even in their box), can’t break a mirror, can’t give a purse without money in it, [has] to throw a pinch of salt over her left shoulder if she spills some. I think some [superstitions] are just common-sense comments, such as don’t break a mirror or you might cut yourself because the shards are sharp, that have grown into something more,” the reader goes on. “But they transform into this set of rules to live by, often for no apparent reason. Life is pretty scary sometimes, so […] people [do] whatever they can to try to avoid hidden dangers.”
Superstitions are a way of life for some people and simply silly to others. Although science may not have (yet) proven most to be true, that doesn’t stop us from believing them or stop us from picking up the penny from the ground—hey, every cent counts!
We asked some of our traveler BFFs what their top superstitions are when it comes to shifts in the emergency room (ER) and they had a few things to say:
No. 1: A full moon equals unusual chaos
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “full moon”? Since ancient times, full moons have been associated with lunacy, strange behavior, and other weird things that gave our great-great-great-great-great grandparents the heebie-jeebies. And apparently, this superstition rings true in the medical and healthcare communities too.
“A full moon exerts its force on our water weight and alters our behaviors,” one professional said. “You can always tell when there’s a full moon and you’re working in the emergency department.”
Although there’s no “absolute proof” that full moons have an affect on our psyche or behaviors, a number of medical travelers and professionals will tell you that any night with a full moon, but especially one right before Halloween, triggers a flood of patients with a wide variety of bizarre and unusual ailments, injuries, or illnesses that need treatment. If there’s anything that can go wrong, it will on a night with a full moon, so beware.
No. 2: Whatever you do, don’t say the “Q” or “C” words
The “Q” and “C” words? Yeah, "quiet" and "calm"—what were you thinking?
In case you’re unaware, uttering the words “quiet” and “calm” before, during, or after a shift, jinxes the entire floor or department. Ironically enough, you must stay quiet and calm, but you can never ever say the words out loud, don’t even whisper them.
“You’re not allowed to say the word ‘quiet’ on the ward,” said pediatrician nurse, Alana. “Because if you ever dare say that it’s quiet, the ward will just turn upside down and back to front and go absolutely crazy.”
Once someone’s done the thing that cannot be named, brace yourself for an eventful night full of misfortunes. Whether that’s an influx in difficult patients, equipment malfunctioning, or something totally unheard of, the “Q” and “C” words bring anything but quiet and calmness.
No. 3: All things come in 3’s…
Did anyone else have an unhealthy obsession with the old-school TV show “Charmed”? Oh, just me? Okay, well, you’re missing out. Anyway, it’s this magical series with three badass sister witches—played by Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs, Shannon Daughtery or Rose McGowen, depending on the season—who protect innocents from demons and other evil beings. When they get themselves into a precarious situation, they could always rely on one spell, “The power of three will set us free!”
For med travelers like yourself, the power of three means something different. Because all bad things come in a series. Lots of travel nurses and allied health professionals believe they find a pattern to life’s unfortunate events. Regardless of what happens, like if there are three codes in one night or three babies born in one day, it all occurs in threes, or so the superstition says.
What we know now is first is the worst, second is the best, but third may not be the one with the treasure chest after all.
No. 4: Bad weather means more babies
Have you ever heard of barometric pressure? This superstition holds more fact than fiction. Barometric pressure measures the weight of particles in the air—when it’s sunny outside, then there’s high barometric pressure, whereas lower barometric pressure occurs when it’s rainy and/or stormy.
We know, because science (and tides), that this unseen pressure directly affects water. Although it may not always feel like it, the human body is roughly 60 percent water, so it sort of makes sense that our bodies would feel a storm brewing, and that’s why some people have pain in their joints when it rains. Pregnant women, who are full of amniotic fluid in addition to their 60 percent body water, have a higher chance to go into labor when the barometric pressure is low or when there’s a thunderstorm, hurricane, and then some.
“When you work in labor and delivery,” said Dr. Navin Bhojwani, obstetrician in North Carolina. “You think about a big change in pressure, and you prepare for a difference in volume. Anecdotally, we all think about it when we’re in these situations.”
No. 5: Friday the 13th might be based on a true story
Now I know we’ve all seen the original “Friday the 13th”—it’s a classic Halloween flick. But did you know that the horror film is a(n exaggerated) portrayal of how scary hospitals and other medical facilities can be on this frightful day?
Well, it’s not, but it sure as heck may feel like it to some nurses and medical professionals. I mean, they’re the ones who have to deal with the chaos of trauma, traffic accident patients, and difficult family members. It’s a wonder how these healthcare heroes make it to Saturday, the 14th.
“One of the reasons why I enjoy work is you never know what’s coming in the door,” said Dr. Bruce Lo.
Dr. Lo wanted to know for certain if the superstition that bad luck is associated with Friday the 13th holds any truth, so he did his own experiment. He and his team evaluated 13 Friday-the-13ths over seven years and compared each set of data to the Fridays that came before and after it. Then, they evaluated 13 conditions such as heart attacks, car accidents, and appendectomies, plus overall emergency department (ED) volume to assess whether there’s a scientific parallel. And while this experiment relied heavily on that one little number: 13... spoiler alert: there wasn't a correlation.
So, if most of these superstitions aren’t verifiable or have already been disproved, why do so many of us cherish them so much?
“We often want an answer to why our days are so crazy,” explained Alana. “And a lot of it comes down to some really weird superstitions.”
“I think it’s just human nature and how we like to associate things,” Dr. Lo agreed. “And it’s a part of our culture. There’s just that human bias that goes along with it. And I think there’s something fun about just saying, ‘Gosh, it’s the full moon’, or ‘it’s Friday the 13th’ or ‘it’s some sort of weird jinx that was placed on us that caused us to have a particularly busy shift or some particularly difficult patients’.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if superstitions are self-fulfilled prophecies or supernatural curses, because either way, it’s out of our control. It’s up to you to decide if you believe or not, but next time you wish for something, you may want to consider knocking on wood. You know, just in case.